Death knell

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A string of honking-related accidents prompts authorities to examine the country's illicit horn culture

The scene of an accident allegedly related to horn abuse that killed a two-year-old girl on June 14 in HCMC's Thu Duc District.

On June 14, Nguyen Van Tuan rumbled a truckload of medical oxygen through Thu Duc District.

Witnesses say that Tuan sounded his horn causing a mother to lose control of her motorbike and her daughter. Le Thi Loan panicked, braked and sent her precious cargo flying onto the street.

Two year-old Dinh Phuong Vy was killed instantly struck down by Tuan's truck.

Last week, the Ministry of Transport sent a written request to the Ministry of Public Security urging traffic police to clamp down on excessive honking and impose stricter penalties for modified vehicle horns.

The memo specifically targeted continuous honking and the use of air horns which are extremely loud in residential areas. The Ministry of Transport further decried the use of whistles and horns that fall short of legal specifications.

The accident has sparked public outcry. Media outlets buzzed with anger over the death of two-year-old Vy. Online forums buzzed with comments from those who felt they too had been victimized by horn abuse.

"Many drivers use air horns and honk them loudly, raising risks of accidents. [Horns] even startle men, not to mention women who usually don't have firm control of motorbikes," said Nguyen Ngoc Tuong, deputy chief of HCMC Traffic Safety Committee.

In fact, it was not the first time a horn abuse-related accident took place in Vietnam.

On May 18, Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc, a 23-year-old Sanyo employee in the southern Dong Nai Province, 35 kilometers to the northeast of HCMC, was run over by a truck in Tam Hoa Ward.

Witnesses said the horn of a truck running alongside Ngoc startled her, causing her to lose control of the motorbike. Like Vy, Ngoc was killed by the truck on the spot.

Last September, a similar tragedy occurred in HCMC's District 6.

Nguyen Thi Nhieu, 51, lost control of her bicycle after being startled by a truck running behind her. She died instantly under the weight of the truck's wheels.

So difficult, so lax

Officials and experts said that regulations on vehicle horns are already in place, but effective enforcement does not exist, for a variety of reasons.

Ngo Ngoc Son, deputy chief of the vehicle testing department under Vietnam Register an agency that works to check quality of means of transport pointed out that horn volume is restricted to 90-115 decibels in city centers.

Regardless, he said, drivers often replace factory horns with air horns whose volume can reach as high as 300 decibels.

According to Son, these horn scofflaws avoid detection by removing their illegal horns during registration inspections.

Out on the street, enforcement becomes nearly impossible.

Traffic police say they lack special devices to measure horn volumes and, instead, depend on their ears. To make matters worse, drivers often mount illegal horns alongside factory models and hide them when they encounter police.

Vo Van Van, deputy chief of the HCMC traffic police force, said that even after being caught and punished, violators usually reinstall their air horns.

Under the government's latest decree, horn-related fines range from VND100,000-500,000 (US$5.29-26.45), which is too lax to deter violations, according to lawyer Tran Cong Ly Tao of the HCMC Bar Association.

Dau An Phuc, head of the HCMC Traffic Infrastructure Management Office, argued that trucking companies should be held responsible for inspecting their own fleets. Drivers who modify horns should be punished in-house.

Phuc stressed the importance of driver awareness"”loud horns can cause fatal accidents.

In an interview with local newspaper Nguoi Lao Dong, Minister of Transport Ho Nghia Dung also said drivers' awareness is what matters.

"In other countries, people never honk in urban areas," Dung said.

"Instead they utilize light signals; honking is becoming a habit in our country." The Minister of Transport added that honking is "a matter of traffic culture".

According to Minister Dung, Vietnam needs to improve campaigns to educate people about decent traffic culture, increase vehicle inspections and strengthen punishment of horn-related violations.

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